In 1965, long before the term “SUV” was even coined, Ford launched its Bronco, an off-roader that could play in the dirt as well as on asphalt. Owners gladly traded any stitch of luxury for a boxy brute that offered utility and the tenacity of a pack mule. By 1996, the Bronco had gotten big and flabby and was trotted off to the glue factory. Today, the first-gen Broncos, model years 1966 to 1977, have a cult following, and Ford has shrewdly leveraged the nostalgia, recently relaunching a new model with much fanfare.
For Seth Burgett, a confirmed Ford guy since age nine, those early Broncos are magical machines. A serial entrepreneur and engineer, he had sold a sports-headphones company and needed a new challenge. So, as his Bronco-collecting bug got out of hand, it only made sense for the inventor (with more than 40 patents and patents pending to his credit) to start a company building the best old-time Bronco he could dream of.
Just off Route 66 in Hamel, Ill., Gateway Bronco’s 60,000-square-foot factory has plenty of space to fabricate these beasts on a well-oiled production line, with all the work done in-house. Three levels of build are available—Fuelie, Coyote and Luxe GT Editions—each with a host of custom options, including an electric version with about 200 miles of range. Think an automatic soft top (Gateway created the first for a Bronco) and other high- tech updates such as modern infotainment systems with CarPlay hidden in the console and a rearview that turns into a backup camera with the touch of a button. No bucking involved.
In the Buff
Every donor Bronco gets stripped down to bare metal. For each build, Gateway sources an unrestored original Bronco, uses a customer’s own or furnishes a brand-new Ford replica body if a client wants spanking-new sheet metal. No Bronco in its day received the level of attention to surface preparation, panel gaps and overall perfection as this restomod outfitter lavishes on its builds.
People, not robots, connect the dots—and the spot welds—at every step during the build process. Early on, panels of the exterior or interior requiring body work receive attention. Original panels are used to the extent possible, with repairs and extra strengthening added to reduce noise and vibration.
A Bronco customer in the 1960s could choose from a color palette that was striking then and just as alluring now. Workers spray the cars by hand with PPG paints, in original colors and in a range of additional gloss, metallic, pearl and matte finishes. Customers can add painted Ranger stripes or, for a trompe l’oeil effect, opt for the distressed paint finish with sunbaked marks.
Awaiting final assembly, a Bronco’s grille and doors are painted, paired together and staged. Maintaining consistency, panel to panel and from one vehicle to the next, is key to meeting strict quality control that allows Gateway to provide a warranty of three to five years on its Broncos.
No old Bronco ever made this kind of power. First-generation models were all grunt with not much go, equipped as they were with an indefatigable 105 hp inline-6 or, if you were lucky, Ford’s 200 hp 289 V-8. Gateway uses a crate Ford Coyote 302 ci V-8, which, with optional supercharging, delivers about 600 hp.
The best magic tricks involve much sleight of hand. Similarly, Gateway engineers many of the components within the vehicle to be invisible or nearly so. Climate control, infotainment and other interior systems are discreetly incorporated into the otherwise stock-appearing interior. Traditional window cranks, for instance, actuate the electric windows with a single touch. Even special rodent-proof wiring is possible.
In the Wheelhouse
Burgett owns a brace of 1967 Shelby Mustangs—a GT350 and GT500—so it should be no surprise that he equips his Broncos with a wood-rimmed, tri-spoke steering wheel modeled after the Shelby GT350 of the same period. The Bronco’s power steering means that drivers can use a finger to steer, instead of needing both hands to crank the skinny rim like they will on an original Shelby.
Just because early Broncos offered creature comforts on par with a Conestoga wagon doesn’t mean that these beauties have to go without. Customers can request heated and cooled seats upholstered in hides used by Bentley, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, along with suede, Alcantara and custom contrast stitching to embellish them. Billet and brushed nickel accent the interiors.
Bronc on the Block
This 1974 Bronco was recently sold by Barrett-Jackson auction company for $650,000, with all proceeds going to a foundation to raise Alzheimer’s awareness. Gateway’s “full-house” build, it features four-link active suspension, billet wheels and a barnwood bed. Seats are upholstered in Porsche leather with houndstooth inserts.